Fort Bragg leads Army's clean energy efforts

The installation is creating energy with geothermal wells, solar panels and, in the future, a hydroelectric turbine on the Little River.

Drew Brooks
The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.

Fort Bragg doesn't have the large clean energy projects of some other military installations.

You won't find sprawling fields of solar panels, like at Fort Stewart, Georgia; or a large biomass plant that supports the installation's entire energy needs, like at Fort Drum, New York.

But what the nation's largest military installation lacks in scale, it makes up for in diversity.

In addition to power provided by outside utilities, Fort Bragg is creating energy with geothermal wells, solar panels and, in the future, a hydroelectric turbine on the Little River.

Fort Bragg, long a leader in a variety of Army programs, has become a test bed of sorts for renewable energy sources and energy-efficient improvements, according to Audrey Oxendine, chief of energy and utilities on Fort Bragg.

Oxendine's office keeps close watch of the installation's energy usage, tracking consumption across Fort Bragg's more than 55 million square feet of building space. They also manage privatized utilities on post and oversee efforts to encourage recycling and conservation among the installation's estimated 54,000 troops.

The biggest driving factors for Fort Bragg's clean energy push, Oxendine said, is a desire to cut down on energy costs while also providing more security to the installation's utility infrastructure.

Fort Bragg spends about $45 million a year on electricity alone, she said. And the unique units who call the post home -- including special operations forces and much of the nation's quick-reaction force -- can't afford to be out of power.

At the same time, the installation's size -- a full one-tenth of the Army is housed at Fort Bragg -- and the space those troops require prevent the post from having more large-scale projects.

"That's the most daunting thing, I think," Oxendine said. "The size."

The size comes with big demands, she said. For example, while Fort Drum's peak power demand is 32 megawatts, the peak demand at Fort Bragg is 132 megawatts.

But despite its size, the installation's relatively low energy rates when compared to other installations preclude some large scale programs.

"It's a double-edged sword," Oxendine said.

If a project doesn't pay for itself or pay back significant cost savings over time, she said the installation doesn't pursue it.

That's why there's not more solar power on post.

"It almost makes it impossible, if not at an enormous scale," Oxendine said. And there's no space on post for a sprawling solar farm.

Despite those challenges, Oxendine said Fort Bragg has found other ways to utilize renewable energies and has made significant progress at improving energy efficiency in the last decade.

One of the installation's largest projects involved the $13.3 million geothermal heating and cooling systems that were installed in several buildings in Fort Bragg's historic district in 2015.

Other efforts have been driven by a Department of Defense program meant to marry new technologies with military energy needs.

The Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, or ESTCP, is a program started in 1995 that encourages outside companies to partner with the Army to find solutions to energy problems.

Officials with the program have called Fort Bragg a critical partner for the program and an "instrumental energy test bed."

In recent years, Fort Bragg-based ESTCP projects have included new insulation meant to prevent energy loss in buildings and systems to optimize energy efficiency on post.

Another project, with construction starting next month, will create a microgrid within the 82nd Airborne Division.

The grid will allow the installation to maintain power to a section of post near Ardennes and Campobello streets, even when the rest of Fort Bragg is suffering from an outage.

Another such project is at the Hercules Fitness Center on Pope Field, where officials have installed solar panels on the gym roof to power dozens of lights and several large fans.

Oxendine said there had been complaints that the gym, especially the weight room, was uncomfortably warm and humid during the summer.

The solar panels are providing energy to help solve that problem and eventually will be tied into a new heating and air conditioning system.

Across the entirety of post, Oxendine said Fort Bragg has several solar panels, affixed to gyms, dining facilities and even a parachute drying tower.

But the Hercules panels are unique in that officials are not converting the electricity from direct current to alternating current.

"It's more efficient," Oxendine said, explaining that converting the energy would result in a loss of 7-8 percent of power.

Army leaders are unaware of any similar experiment with direct current electricity on another installation. Eventually, Fort Bragg officials hope they can use the more efficient system to power the bulk of the Hercules Fitness Center and could eventually install similar systems on other Fort Bragg buildings.

"That one's a good example of what we're doing," Oxendine said. "Private companies come to us with these ideas."

Fort Bragg leaders have provided Army energy leaders with a tour of their Hercules project in recent weeks, but Oxendine said another project is creating just as much excitement, although it's still in the planning phase.

She said a $1.8 million project will install a hydroelectric turbine in the Little River, at the site of Fort Bragg's old wastewater treatment plant.

The turbine will create 275 kilowatts of energy to feed into the installation's electrical systems and will pay for itself within 14 years, Oxendine said. Overall, the project is expected to create a total savings of $2.7 million and could open the door to more hydroelectricity projects on post.

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©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

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